Why does this matter? Well, we all have the same 24 hours to work with each day. Some people have trained themselves to get 10X the amount of productive action wrapped into their day than do other people. How do they do this?
When I think about Time Management I think about two concepts: Awareness and Efficiency. I believe that it is impossible to become more efficient and thus more “Managed” unless you are 100% aware of what drains your time and what is productive to you. The first step in Time Efficiency is to be fully aware of what you must get done on a daily basis to propel your business or life toward the direction that you have decided to go. These will be your “Core Competencies” or your daily habits of success. Once you have established what these habits look like; you must ascertain how much time you are actually spending on a daily basis, in these tasks, vs on other less meaningful pursuits.
One of the most effective ways that I have ever accomplished this process of Awareness is through an activity generally called, “15 Minute Time Tracking”. The idea is to track what you are doing, on a daily basis, every 15 minutes. You should set a timer of some kind and keep something handy that is easy for you to take notes upon such as a small notepad or your phone. When the buzzer goes off, you write down what you are doing at that moment. It will not take long for you to become suddenly and often shockingly aware of how often you are interrupted during the day or how often you find yourself doing something that you never intended to do (outside of your Habits of Success).
It can be surprising for people to learn not only what distracts them but how much time they are spending engaged in the distracting activity. Further, the problem becomes even larger in magnitude when you consider that Harvard research studies have shown it can take the human brain up to 15 minutes to re-focus on a particular task once the brain has been pulled away in a distraction. This is especially true if the task requires specific focus such as writing a program document, a marketing project, working on a website or blog, writing a white paper, ETC.
I do suggest some strategies for Efficiency, once you obtain an acute awareness of what you should be doing vs. what you’re actually doing. I have chosen to limit the post to these 4, for the sake of brevity:
- Time Blocking: You Must have certain hours of the day that are your 100% focus times and you must protect them at all costs. Email Closed (or set to ignore incoming), Phone Off, Door Closed and Locked with a respectful “Do Not Disturb” sign hung, unnecessary web browsers and programs closed, all social media closed and logged out of, and any other distracting outside stimulus that will prevent you from laser-like focus on your objective.
- Email: Email in some industries is the primary form of communication. I know from experience in the real estate industry that email can literally take over your life. In fact, the next few times you are in someone’s office who is in real estate, check (or ask) to see if they have their email open on one of their screens. 90% of the time they will. What’s the problem with that? Most email represents someone else’s problem or question which they want you to solve. A day spent responding to email is a day responding to another person’s agenda and not your own. My suggestion is to have it closed and have dedicated times during the day when all you do is catch up on email (most programs allow you to push outgoing without getting incoming).
- Notebook/Journal/Tablet: I am often distracted by my own creativity. During the course of focused work; we often come up with “Brilliant” ideas that we “Must” take note of or action on at that very moment. I have found this, in itself, to be a disease at times. I have never been able to “Shed” or “Disregard” these thoughts and retain my sanity. So, my suggestion is to ALWAYS haves something with you where you can notate these ideas in an organized fashion and come back to them later.
- Meetings: Limit them. Ask yourself this question, “Is this meeting I am being asked to commit to going to get me closer to my strategic objectives (goals) in some meaningful or measurable way?” If the answer to that question is “No” or “I am unsure” then it is likely not a meeting worth having. I find, in real estate especially, we have hundreds of meetings over the course of our careers which are totally unnecessary.
The reality is there are always hundreds of things we could be doing but very few that we should be doing. If we do not take action to focus our attention, then our results will be just as scattered as our minds.